Why It’s Important To Examine Your Privilege

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Hiya Sweet Friend:

We live in a beautiful world. Every day, there are endless moments of love, growth, discovery and kindness.

But we also live in a horrible world. Injustice, pain, hardship and darkness flourish.

It’s two sides of the same coin. And the side you get to experience the most depends a lot on your own personal circumstances.

If you get to walk on the bright side on the regular, you may have the privilege of ignoring or not even becoming aware of the darkness.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

And while I admit that it’s daunting, I implore you to take a good hard look around you and see that that darkness exists, even if you have the privilege of mostly avoiding or ignoring it. Because ignoring things never helps them go away.

The only way that we can do that is to first acknowledge our privilege. So let’s talk about privilege and how recognizing it is an incredibly important thing that can help to foster powerful change.

Why Are We Talking About Privilege?

A woman rests her hand on her chin and looks away from the camera, as if in deep thought.

Maybe you’re thinking – this is a health and self-care website Sara. Why write about privilege?

Here’s the thing – health has many facets. Social and community health are just as important as individual health. In fact, they often go hand in hand. Which means that the health of your community and our society can directly affect individual health outcomes. (source, source 2)

Privilege, or lack thereof, plays a HUGE roll. So much so that those with the most privilege may not even see it.

Seriously, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are some serious health gaps experienced by people of colour. Yea… among many other things, white privilege can lead to better health outcomes. How messed up and unfair is that?! (source)

At mshealthesteem.com we talk a lot about self-care and doing self-work. We’ve discussed mindset and self-kindness. We’re usually focused solely on beautiful you.

A woman looks down and smiles, her shirt says "resilient."

But examining your privilege is important. It involves acknowledging how it may benefit your life. And helps you to determine how you can use this knowledge to better the health of your community and our world.

This is an important form of social and community care. Which helps everyone.

And, frankly, that’s self-care too. We all benefit from healthy communities.

Ultimately, privilege-based health disparities (and all of the other issues created by privilege) are not ok.

But you can’t help repair or even recognize these issues if you don’t first recognize your own privilege.

It all starts with you, sweet friend. And that’s why we’re talking about it.

Recognizing Your Privilege Doesn’t Make You a Bad Person

Someone sits on a bench, facing away from the camera and looking out towards the horizon.

Your privilege by no means signifies that you’re a bad person. It doesn’t mean that you haven’t suffered, worked hard or experienced any form of hardship in your life either. You just have a leg up. Often because of factors that are completely out of your control, like the world you were born into and who you are.

Social Worker Kathleen Ebbitt, MSW, shares these examples:

“Examples of types of identity that can afford an individual privilege include: race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, country of origin, language, and/or ability.” (source)

Let’s use me as a deeper example:

I am a white, cisgendered, heterosexual woman from Canada. I was raised in a middle-class home, I am bilingual, I have a supportive family, access to health care, a roof over my head and food on my table. That’s already a heck of a lot of privilege right there.

Someone sits in front of the camera. They appear pensive and have their eyes closed.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t had hardships – having a chronic illness, for example. Nor does it mean I have all the privilege in the world. I’m a woman after all, and, sadly, gender inequality is a thing. Although, women of colour and LGBTQIA+ women have it worse – intersectional feminism is important, yo! And we need to recognize our privilege in order to see that.

Regardless of my hardships and struggles, I have been handed many unearned privileges simply because of who I am, the colour of my skin, my sexual identity, etc.

That’s what privilege is. You acquire it without asking. There’s no package with a pretty bow to unwrap. It’s just handed to you. And it’s very possible that you might not even be aware of all of the privileges you have.

But there’s a power imbalance in this world, and your privilege affects the part you play in it.

So Why Acknowledge Your Privilege?

A woman looks directly at the camera, resting her point finger on her chin.

Because how else can you begin to understand experiences outside of your own? How can you even start to see injustices that you will never have to face? And how can you push for positive change if you don’t allow yourself to understand the problems and your position within them in the first place?

Let’s get even more specific – You can’t fully understand Black Lives Matter or Indigenous Lives Matter movements if you don’t see how our systems automatically prioritize white lives.

That prioritization creates injustice and disparity for people of colour. It’s part of the dark side of the world that I mentioned earlier. And, if you’re white, you need to recognize your privilege in order to truly begin to see and understand these issues.

If you don’t acknowledge the injustices in the world you can never help to abolish them. Understanding your position and privilege is a huge part of understanding the systems that allows injustices to prevail.

Someone holds up a Black Lives Matter sign at a protest.

Cory Booker once said:

“You don’t have to be one of those people that accepts things as they are. Every day, take responsibility for changing them right where you are.” (source)

Essentially, every day you are faced with two choices. And the Black Lives Matter Revolution that you are watching unfold all around you (and hopefully supporting) is highlighting those choices:

Will you maintain a willful ignorance and essentially allow things to continue as they are?

Or will you take responsibility to do your part to help make the world a better place for everyone?

Taking responsibility requires a lot of recognition. And a ton of soul searching and self-work.

A woman smells roses and smiles. Her shirt says "resilient."

It means that you have to listen. Open yourself up to discomfort. And allow yourself to learn and to unlearn a lot of previous assumptions.

It takes dedication, commitment and work. And it’s important to know that this is a long term marathon, not a sprint.

You’re not going to unravel all of your privileges and understand them, and the disadvantages they create for others, immediately. There will be many AH HAH moments. What’s important is that you continue to work towards them and stay open.

Recognizing your privileges helps you see how a system you were born into works to benefit some but not even close to all.

There is a whole world outside of yourself that you will never experience.

A woman holds a sign that says "I Can't Breathe" on it with a photo of George Floyd and The Black Lives Matter Black Fist Symbol

Your privilege might allow you to look away injustices, hardships, systemic racism and horrors that surround you. Because, with the right privileges (like white and gender privilege) you may never be negatively affected.

But looking away is a choice. It empowers injustice and only creates suffering.

So, even if you don’t have to, today, tomorrow, forever, open your eyes and see the world your privilege allows you to ignore. Listen to those who are most affected by it. Help amplify their voices and strive for positive change.

And hey, it’s going to get uncomfortable sometimes. That’s part of it. So take care of yourself as you go. Because you can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. And the world really needs you to be in it for the long haul. Self-care factors in here.

How We Can Make A Difference

Two people face away from the camera and hold each other.

Now I imagine you may be thinking:

“I’m only one person, what can I even do?”

Which brings me to another quote. This time from Ghandi:

“Everything you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it anyway.” (source)

Ok, ok… that sounds a bit like a bummer, but let me break it down.

You can’t possibly know the true impact of your existence and all of your actions. But, ultimately, your life does have meaning and your actions do have a powerful impact, even when you can’t see it and it feels insignificant.

You might feel small, like you’re a speck of sand on a crowded beach. But that doesn’t mean that your voice and your actions don’t have any power. It’s important that you know that.

You can be an agent of positive change, if you choose to be.

Here Are Some Things We Can Do

A photo of a Black Lives Matter protest. Many people in the photo have their fists up in the air in solidarity.

Choose:

To care, to learn, and unlearn prior assumptions, to speak up, to amplify other voices, to be supportive and to act.

Choose to be anti-racist. Because it’s not enough to just not be racist.

Here’s the Ontario Anti-Racism Secretariat’s definition:

“Anti-racism is the practice of identifying, challenging, and changing the values, structures and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism” (source)

We need to actively strive to be anti-racist.

A photo of a Black Lives Matter protest. The focus is on someone holding up a Socialist Alliance Paper that says Black Lives Matter

Educate Yourself:

We’ve touched the tiniest, little tip of a GIANT iceberg. Work on deepening your knowledge and understanding of your privilege, the injustices in the world and more.

Here are some places to start:

What Is White Privilege, Really?

Understanding Race and Privilege

Why It’s Important To Think About Privilege – And Why It’s Hard

13TH

The Hate U Give

Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood

Me And White Supremacy

So You Want to Talk About Race

Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist

Vote:

Many hands all coming together in the middle of the photo.

Vote, vote, vote. Your vote matters and the people we uplift to positions of power matter. Make sure to vote for people who are focused on important changes, like ending systemic racism.

Donate (if you can):

Here are some options for donations.

Reclaim the Block shared a document of organizations in Minneapolis that need support.

The Bail Project

Covid Bail Out NYC

19 Canadian Organizations Supporting Black Canadians to Donate to

Canada Helps Black Solidarity Fund

Canadian Feed The Children – First Nations Nutrition Program

The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund

The Trevor Project

Egale

These are just some options. I encourage you to support organizations who’s actions you believe in. You can also look into local non-profits that are making a difference in your community.

Can’t Donate?

Someone wears a shirt that says Volunteer.

Follow organizations on social media and share their mission and activities. Ask how you can help. Volunteer if you are able to. Join protests when possible.

And, most importantly, continue to listen, learn, understand your privilege, speak up and act. Keep going.

Because all lives can’t matter until Black Lives and Indigenous Lives Matter.

Health and love,

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Thought of the day: How do you plan to make a difference?

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Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

Sara Flanagan is a wellness writer and the creator of www.mshealthesteem.com, where she shares her story of being diagnosed with Graves Disease, a chronic autoimmune disease, and empowering herself to do everything she can to thrive in spite of her diagnosis. She writes articles on self-love, acceptance, wellness and nutrition. Join the Health-Esteem Family today and share in the journey.

35 Comments

  1. Reply

    ashley

    June 17, 2020

    this is a really good article with some great information about what we all can do to bring on change.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Thank you Ashley! I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found it helpful <3.

  2. Reply

    The JOYOUS Living | Influencer (@thejoyousliving)

    June 17, 2020

    i have been hearing so much about Kendi. I need to get a hold of his antiracist book.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Yes! The Podcast is so well done and his work is so incredibly important – I need to get my hands on his book too!

  3. Reply

    Marie

    June 17, 2020

    I can’t believe that the world cannot get along in a civilized manner in this day and age. It is sad that people can’t love each other as beautiful people.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      It’s absolutely awful that we continue to see injustice, power imbalances and suffering! I think that the discussions we’re having globally about systemic racism are so important, because it acknowledges that the system was built this way. We need to dismantle it and replace it with something better. It’s awful, it’s unjustified and it’s uncomfortable to sit with and recognize… but it’s so important we do it. Recognizing our privilege and the roll it may allow us to play is an important step forward.

  4. Reply

    Colleen

    June 18, 2020

    I love this thread so much. I’m glad you touched on the fact that examining your priviledge doesn’t mean you acknowledge that you’re a bad person. It’s the station to which you were born. I think people are afraid to acknowledge that white privilidge is a thing is that they’re afraid it makes them bad.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Thank you so much Colleen! I couldn’t agree more – it doesn’t mean you’re bad or that you haven’t had your own struggles. But it doesn’t mean you have a leg up. Recognizing white privilege is so important, because we need that understanding to acknowledge and recognize issues like systemic racism. It might be uncomfortable self-work, but it’s so incredibly important we do it. Thank you so much for sharing your awesome thoughts with us!

  5. Reply

    Bill

    June 18, 2020

    Examininig our priviledge helps us better understand our lives and the lives of thsoe who weren’t born with it. It’s important to realize that it doesn’t make us bad, it just means we were luckier than some. We can’t shy away from that.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Absolutely Bill! Thank you for sharing that. I love how you said it – We can’t shy away from that. We really can’t. Wilful ignorance is a choice, and it’s a very problematic and hurtful one. It’s so important we strive to learn, unlearn prior assumptions and continue to grow. It’s a lot of self-work but it’s so important we do it!

  6. Reply

    Elizabeth O

    June 18, 2020

    Such a great article to read. Realizing our lives know and change with a better life is really great.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it Elizabeth!

  7. Reply

    Ntensibe Edgar Michael

    June 18, 2020

    Thank you, Sara! You are the best.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Thank you Ntensibe! So are you 🙂

  8. Reply

    GiGi Eats Celebrities

    June 18, 2020

    Oh I know I am blessed and privileged but I don’t shove said privileges in other people’s faces. Instead I use my resources to help others!

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Recognizing and using the privileges you can to uplift and amplify other voices is so important! Thank you for sharing GiGi 🙂

  9. Reply

    Angela Ricardo Bethea

    June 18, 2020

    I think this is a topic many should read about. Knowing what your privileged are important and not as negative as one should think.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Heck yes! I think the word privilege has a negative connotation for many. But it’s so important we know that it doesn’t mean we’re bad people or that we haven’t experienced any hardships. Recognizing privilege is such an important step forward and throwing that negative connotation to the side really helps us dive in! Thank you so much for sharing such an important reminder.

  10. Reply

    Ronnie E.

    June 18, 2020

    I see this issue being brought up a lot in the past few weeks and of course, I understand why. What’s interesting to me as someone who grew up in the third world is the concept that even those who believe they are unprivileged are actually privileged in comparison to many others who are less fortunate across the world. Not a judgement but perhaps an outsider’s perspective on how someone’s understanding of privilege is relative and there is always room to grow and understand one’s privilege beyond the borders of their own nation. May we have a fairer, safer world for all.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts Ronnie! Privilege is absolutely multifaceted and different from person to person; I love that you shared a powerful example of that. There are so many aspects to privilege, like race, gender identity, sexual orientation, country of origin, socioeconomic status, etc. Outsider perspective is really important! Because we all have incredibly different experiences.

      I also really appreciate that you mentioned that there is always room to grow and better understand. Open hearts and open minds go an incredibly long way. We really do well to be open to learning and growing for as long as we have on this earth!

  11. Reply

    Rosey

    June 18, 2020

    I agree with Ronnie (in the comment above me). May we have a safer, fair world for all.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      I couldn’t agree more Rosey!

  12. Reply

    emman damian

    June 18, 2020

    I think it’s all about examining and using it in the right time and place. We should also be cautious about people’s cultures and traditions. Try not to offend people.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Absolutely! Awareness and openness to learning and unlearning prior assumptions is so important. As is the willingness to have conversations that will absolutely be uncomfortable. And, like you said, we need to do our best not to offend and to keep our hearts and minds open to other cultures, traditions and experiences. I’m so happy you shared your awesome thoughts with us Emman, thank you!

  13. Reply

    Monidipa

    June 19, 2020

    As people, and even more so as students, we have been raised in a system where we are encouraged to outdo one another to think how we can stand out, how we can present our lives as more special, or more worthy, than another’s. We’re living a modernized, standardized, polished and twisted reality of “survival of the fittest,” where the most privileged, the most connected and the most advantaged survive and those who struggle the hardest are left behind.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      That’s such great insight Monidipa and so incredibly true! There are systemic issues that we all need to remain aware of, especially those with the most advantages (since privilege can allow those with the “right” advantages, like white privilege, to not experience things like systemic racism and to simply look away. Wilful ignorance isn’t ok). Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

  14. Reply

    knycx

    June 19, 2020

    Thanks a lot for your sharing and insights and it inspired me, at first I didn’t know you were truly talking about “privilege” but it actually is! More, it has become such a negative word and seems people may even want to avoid it.Well now I know it’s not. – Knycx Journeying

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      I’m so glad you feel inspired Knycx! Thank you so much for sharing that! I think there’s a negative association with the word privilege – but it’s so important we know that having privilege doesn’t mean we’re bad or haven’t experienced hardships. It’s such a multifaceted thing and working to understand what privileges we have an how they translate to our world experience is super important.

  15. Reply

    Jessica Collazo

    June 19, 2020

    I love to do some volunteer work. I know that sometimes money can move things but volunteer work can make things happen. Because it’s showing the society that this really matters and you are right we have to check our privilege everyone has to.

    • Reply

      Sara | Ms. Health-Esteem

      June 19, 2020

      Volunteer work is so important! Your actions are valuable too. And, you’re so right, leading by example can make a heck of a difference. Volunteer work is amazing <3

  16. Reply

    Autumn

    June 19, 2020

    I love this post. It is so important for people to educate themselves about all that is going on in the world at the moment. I really do feel positive change coming. Thank you for trying to help!

  17. Reply

    Shannon Gurnee

    June 20, 2020

    Thank you for sharing this blog post. I would love to start doing more volunteer work. Hugs to you.

  18. Reply

    Natalie

    June 21, 2020

    Great article. Thank you for sharing this. I know I’m blessed with many things and I’m aware of my privileges. I’m more then willing to help change the world. Unfortunately many people still are not.

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I’m a wellness writer, Graves Disease thriver and self-love advocate.

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